Break It Down

So, I just read The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire. Besides the fact that I am wildly in love with this trilogy, literally missed a meal one day while reading them because I forgot to eat, and would pretty much trade Suzanne Collins a kidney to get the last book, Mockingjay, before August because I MUST KNOW* . . . yes, besides all that, I discovered an odd little commonality. Thus, a riddle:

What do The Hunger Games, Little House on the Prairie, The Boxcar Children, and Robinson Crusoe have in common?

The answer I’m looking for is, “They all spend significant time describing in detail how their characters go about fending for themselves in various levels of wilderness.” (If you know of another thing these four books have in common – besides, say, words – I’d love to hear it.)

As a kid, I read The Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie many times with great enjoyment. Even then, though, I think a part of me was surprised. If asked about my interests, or about subjects I liked in my reading, I would never have listed things like, “the building of log cabins.” Still, the level of detail in these passages never bothered me. If anything, I might have occasionally thought, “I’m reading a passage about the fashioning of a twig broom/damming of a creek/filling in of cracks in a wall. And my attention, it is rapt! How is this?”

The key to success with this is, I think, pretty simple: make sure the processes you are breaking down are used to overcome serious obstacles to the protagonist. Because that’s why it works, really. I mean, it’s neat to learn something new about the creation of a handmade door, but the reason such a thing holds real interest is the why. In Little House on the Prairie and The Boxcar Children, the main reason is not one of fending off urgent danger. Though it is a potential factor, the Ingalls family doesn’t really work the, “we must put in a door or WOLVES WILL EAT US” angle too much. It’s more that it’s satisfying to see the characters solve problems of comfort and practicality as they put together a home. In The Hunger Games, the tension is more survival-related, but the goals are often similar, if more immediate: food, shelter, warmth, and so on. Robinson Crusoe falls somewhere between the two, with the challenge moving from “survive” to “create home” over the course of the book.

Another factor is that all of these characters allot appropriate attention to the tasks at hand, because these are the tasks at hand, not just background noise. This is the difference between staving-off-starvation Katniss managing to shoot a squirrel and a middle-class modern character stopping to eat a granola bar when the real action is somewhere else.


In almost-totally-unrelated news, I’ve been asked to do another booktalk! Actually asked! It will be for a group of fifth and sixth graders, about thirty of them, coming to the library as part of their summer school program.

Since my impression is that they’re likely to be somewhat reluctant and/or struggling readers, I’m planning to do really high-interest books, which means – much as I love them – that I will probably give Howl’s Moving Castle and The Thief a miss this time. I think I will keep my presentations of Artemis Fowl and maybe Uglies (though that might be a stretch for any struggling readers), and am thinking about adding The Lightning Thief and (three guesses) The Hunger Games. Like Uglies, it could be challenging for the kids, but I think the fast-paced, high-stakes awesomeness of it might motivate them to give it a try.

I am possibly, possibly considering The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, except that I know that an eleven-year-old version of me would be highly upset by all the death, particularly the dog at the very beginning. Might also think about Rapunzel’s Revenge. I know that Artemis Fowl, Uglies, and The Lightning Thief are on the school’s list of recommended summer reading, though I’m not sure for what grades. Will have to check.

Any suggestions or comments?


*All of which makes the books sound pretty bad for my health, doesn’t it? I’m probably lucky it’s a trilogy and not a longer series. I know August isn’t even all that long to wait, but when I started reading, I THOUGHT MOCKINGJAY WAS OUT ALREADY!

2 thoughts on “Break It Down

  • XD I didn’t think I liked The Hunger Games as I was reading, but then it haunted my dreams. Literally. Worst frickin’ nightmare I can remember. Took me over an hour to get to sleep again. So I have to respect the book for that if nothing else.

    When I was in fifth grade or so, I quite liked a book entitled Two Against the North: Lost in the Barrens. Its’ the story of two boys who get lost on the Arctic tundra as winter sets in. It fits neatly into your collection of books that detail otherwise-boring survival skills. They build themselves a couple shelters, hunt for food, build themselves a sled, adopt an orphaned caribou fawn (after eating its mother… oops), all sorts of fun stuff.

  • How about Hatchet by Gary Paulson? Or Julie and the Wolves? Or did everyone read them in elementary school?

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